Hay River received a very personal look last week at the life of Terry Fox.
It came from his older brother Fred Fox, who spoke at NWT Centennial Library on May 10 and the next day at several schools about his famous brother and his inspirational Marathon of Hope.
“Terry never thought of himself as being a Canadian hero, though,” he said. “He was never running across Canada to be famous or anything like that.”
Terry Fox, who had lost a leg to cancer, became a Canadian hero when he launched his Marathon of Hope in 1980 to run across Canada – a marathon a day – to raise money for cancer research.
However, cancer returned by the time he had run 143 days and 5,373 kilometres – almost as far as Thunder Bay in northern Ontario – and he died in 1981.
That is what virtually every Canadian knows about Terry Fox, but his brother told much more, using family photos to provide a unique insight.
Fred Fox said he put together the presentation about six or seven years ago after going through his parents’ photos, and he felt it would be another way of sharing the story.
“One of the things I get often asked is what was Terry like growing up,” he said. “We’re only 14 months apart in age. And I wish I could say that when Terry was 12 or 10 or whatever we knew he was going to do something great, he was going to run across the country, he was going to make a difference in other people’s lives, but we couldn’t do that.”
However, Fred Fox said his brother showed exception determination and commitment even as a youngster and later as a teenager playing sports, including basketball in high school and later at Simon Fraser University, where he made the junior varsity team on “sheer guts and determination.”
“It was during that first year at university that Terry developed a bit of a sore knee,” said Fred Fox, noting Terry was playing rugby and competitive soccer, and treated his sore knee like a sports injury by icing it.
However, he woke up one morning in March 1977 and could barely walk, and after going to hospital he was diagnosed with bone cancer.
Fred Fox recalled that Terry was 18 years old when he was told that, in four days, he was going to have to have part of his right leg amputated above the knee.
“He was devastated,” said his brother. “Terry thought he would never be able to play sports again, thought he wouldn’t be able to continue his university studies. Terry was going to Simon Fraser because he wanted to be a teacher, a phys-ed teacher in high school. And he thought that dream was gone.”
However, after the operation and being fitted with an artificial leg, Terry Fox was looking at it as just another challenge to overcome.
“That’s what he was like,” said Fred Fox. “He wasn’t going to sit around and feel sorry for himself. He was going to get on with it.”
Fred Fox said his brother was inspired to help other cancer patients by seeing all the people affected by the disease when he was going through chemotherapy treatment.
While learning to run with an artificial leg, Terry Fox told his parents that he was training for the Vancouver Marathon, and only later told them he was training to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research.
Fred Fox said his mother got upset with Terry and suggested he run across B.C. from the Alberta border to Vancouver.
“Terry said, ‘Mom, not only people in B.C. get cancer, but people right across Canada do. I have to start in St. John’s, Newfoundland,'” recalled his brother. “And that’s what Terry did.”
On April 12, 1980, he began the Marathon of Hope and ran a marathon a day until Sept. 1 of that year when the cancer returned.
Fred Fox recalled his brother said he hoped all of Canada would continue his dream of one day finding a cure for cancer.
And he noted someone asked Terry about having an annual event in his name.
“Terry thought that would be a great idea,” recalled his brother. “Terry chose September for the Terry Fox Run.”
That was because he had to end his run on Sept. 1
Terry Fox died on June 28, 1981, at the age of 22.
In the intervening years, people across Canada and in 30 countries around the world have continued his dream with the Terry Fox Run.
“To date, over $750 million has been raised in Terry’s name for cancer research,” said Fred Fox, who has been encouraging such runs this year as a way to celebrate Canada 150.
Fred Fox was welcomed to his address at NWT Centennial Library by Jenn Touesnard of the Hay River Road Runners.
“I don’t think there is anyone in this room who cannot say that their hearts have been touched or their lives have been impacted by the story of Terry Fox,” she said, noting she has participated in Terry Fox Runs since she was a little girl and has carried on that tradition with her own family.
“We participate every year, as the community does here,” said Touesnard. “It’s a big part of our community here in Hay River.”